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Epiphyte Ecology
Monitoring Change
Species Discovery

Dr Brian Coppins
Ms Sally Eaton
Dr Christopher Ellis
Ms Louise Olley
Dr Rebecca Yahr

Research Projects



Conservation in the 21st Century is faced with the problem of not knowing historic species distributions, and it is often impossible to develop robust baselines for biodiversity protection and recovery.

This problem exists because the science of documenting species developed in the mid-18th Century, and was therefore outpaced by the Industrial Revolution. Knowledge of species distributions went hand-in-hand with a massive social and environmental upheaval which fundamentally altered the UK's native biodiversity.

RBGE scientists have used lichens preserved on building timbers (Figure 1), sampled from houses dating from the 15th to the 18th Centuries (Figure 2), to reconstruct historic patterns of species distribution in the British landscape.

The results show massive biodiversity loss across the threshold of industrialisation and into the 'Anthropocene' - up to 80% of species for south-east England.

This suggests that regional biodiversity and environmental targets developed during the post-industrial period are biased towards a degraded flora, and fail to account for the natural potential of our countryside.

An ability to accurately reconstruct pre-industrial biodiversity provides a more equitable baseline, commensurate with the desire that developing countries should conserve biodiversity in its totality.

Can you help? Do you know of thatch, or wooden timbers or wattles from vernacular buildings, which we may access and examine during our research?

Contact: Dr Rebecca Yahr

Figure 1. Excellent presevation of a smooth barked lichen community on a wattle from a 16th Century cottage.

Project Publications:

Ellis, C.J., Yahr, R., Belinchón, R. & Coppins, B.J. (2014) Archaeobotanical evidence for climate as a driver of ecological community change across the anthropocene boundary. Global Change Biology, 20: 2211-2220.

Yahr, R., Coppins, B.J., Ellis, C.J. (2014) Quantifying the loss of lichen epiphyte diversity from the pre-industrial Exmoor landscape (south-west England). The Lichenologist, 46: 1–11.

Ellis, C.J., Yahr, R. & Coppins, B.J. (2011) Archaeobotanical evidence for a massive loss of epiphyte species richness during industrialisation in southern England. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278: 3482-3489.

Yahr, R., Coppins, B.J. & Ellis, C.J. (2011) Preserved epiphytes as an archaeological resource in post-medieval vernacular buildings. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38: 1191-1198.

Yahr, R. (2010) Roundwood in roofs: archaeobotany in the attic. Thatcher's Standard, 22: 10-11.

Yahr, R. & Ellis, C.J. (2009) Historic lichen communities in Wiltshire. British Lichen Society Bulletin, 105: 10-17.

Yahr, R. & Ellis, C.J. (2009) Lichens in the attic. The Building Conservation Directory, 2009: 13-14.